‘It’s a very different pace’: An American executive living in Sweden shares his 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily routine

  • Mark Bula is the chief commercial officer at H2 Green Steel in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • He worked in the steel industry and in startups in the US before moving to Sweden in May 2021.
  • In Sweden, he’s found that life is more about how you enjoy it, and less about what you do for work.

Growing up, the last thing Mark Bula thought he would do was enter the steel industry. Today, he’s working at a Swedish startup focused on producing eco-friendly steel.

In May 2021, Bula moved to Stockholm, Sweden, to become the chief commercial officer at H2 Green Steel, a Swedish startup that aims to produce steel with hydrogen instead of carbon to reduce the CO2 emissions that steelmaking produces. He found the opportunity after receiving a cold email from the company’s chairman about building a low-carbon steel mill in Sweden.

“I thought, ‘How nice would it be to be able to try something overseas, to have that experience?'” Bula, who isn’t sure his family wants to go back to the US, said. “In the US, we are very oriented towards our jobs. Here, it’s more about how you enjoy life, what activities, sports, and outdoor activities you do. It’s a different kind of lifestyle.”

Bula walked Insider through a day in his life, and how work and life in Sweden stacks up against work and life in the US.

6 a.m. — wake up and a ‘sacred’ cup of coffee

When he first moved to Sweden, Bula said he found himself “so excited for the job” that he would make it to the office before 6:30 or 7 a.m. Now that he’s established a routine a year later, he wakes up around 6 a.m.

“I make myself a cup of coffee, which in Sweden is sacred,” he said, adding that he didn’t drink coffee in the US.

After coffee, he goes to the gym across the street from his apartment in the Stockholm city center.

“The Swedes are big on exercise,” he said. “A lot of companies make sure there’s access to a gym, or you’re paid to go to a gym.”

After a shower, Bula takes a 20-minute bus ride to the office. In the US, he “never took a city bus for transportation on a regular basis.”

7:30 a.m. — arrive at the office

When he gets to the office, Bula checks his emails and touches base with the company’s salespeople. Most of his coworkers come in around 8 or 8:30 a.m., he said.

Bula said he has a tendency to socialize at work, and he sees it as part of his role as a leader. “I try not to make it obvious, but I enjoy getting around and talking to people,” he said.

In the US, Bula said he had a larger office to himself, but in Sweden, the office is an open room with open desks.

“Those desks float for the most part,” he said. “You don’t really have an assigned desk, so I try to get in early to make sure I always get my same desk. You can’t take that part of the American out of me.”

10 a.m. — a ceremonial second coffee

Later in the morning, Bula said he goes for another cup of coffee before he starts his next meeting. Some afternoons, before or after lunch, Bula has fika — the Swedish custom of having coffee and something (usually) sweet with friends — with his colleagues.

He spends most of his day working with the sales team and the legal person on his commercial team. On Mondays, Bula said leadership meetings or contract negotiations mostly fill his schedule.

Most of the work is focused on pre-selling the steel mill to raise the 4 billion euros needed to build it.

“A lot of what I do throughout the day is talk to customers and work with the sales team to close offtake agreements to prove to banks and lenders that there is interest in this project, and there is an opportunity to penetrate the market.”

11:45 a.m. — lunch with colleagues

Bula said he’s observed that lunchtime in Sweden is done together.

“In the US, so many of us want to take our lunch and go off so we can get away from everybody,” Bula said. “Not here.”

At first, Bula said he found it strange that he was expected to have lunch with his coworkers, but now he enjoys sitting and talking with people, sometimes learning Swedish phrases from them.

Bula said having lunch with his coworkers is a “nice switch” from a typical workday lunch in the US.

Employees typically take an hour for lunch before going back to work, Bula said. Meetings and work on market strategies take up most of his afternoons.

5 p.m. — time to wind down

Bula tries to leave the office around 5 or 5:30 p.m. so he can take walks outside with his wife and explore Stockholm.

Every Monday at 5 p.m., Bula has Swedish lessons for about an hour and a half that H2 Green Steel pays for. He’s been doing the lessons for three months.

“I will admit that at the end of a long day on Monday, it’s hard to focus on Swedish lessons,” Bula said. “But it does give you this confidence level.”

7:30 p.m. — dinnertime, at a different pace

The earliest Bula eats dinner is 7 p.m., which is the same as he did in the US.

“We’re a lot more relaxed over dinner here than we were back home,” Bula said. “We were walking in the door, trying to prepare a meal, then rush through the meal so we could go watch TV for an hour and maybe do more work.”

In Sweden, Bula picks up fresh food at the store, walks the dog, and then goes home to prepare dinner.

“It’s a very different pace,” he said.

10 p.m. — the end of a long day

Sometimes, Bula says, he’ll do work for an hour after dinner before going to bed. But he also likes to watch Netflix to relax; he doesn’t usually watch the news, he said, because it’s in Swedish.

Bula said he doesn’t sleep late. In the summer months, the sun in Sweden comes up around 3:30 or 4 a.m., and doesn’t set until 10:30 or 11 p.m.

“I find the climate here, the hours of sun, and everything else to be better,” he said.

Every day at a startup is different, Bula said. At H2 Green Steel, “there’s always something different about it, and I find that to be a lot of fun.”